One Year of Sensory Bins
Sensory Bins are a big hit at our house. They provide an excellent opportunity to give the kids in the house a chance to experience different textures and are an excellent source of busy play. We started with a bin filled with rainbow rice Rainbow Sprinkles (rice) and a handful of various objects. The kids loved it (even Dad and I were hard pressed to walk by it without running our fingers through it) but after about a month they wanted something new. I set off to the Internet doing a bit of research and I was amazed at just how many different ideas for sensory bins were out there. I decided we would change it up once a month. All of the bins are relatively cheap to put together in fact you probably have a lot of the items needed already in your home. Each sensory bin contains similar main ingredients; a container to store it in (we prefer the clear, low sided, storage totes with lids, a filler (salt, rice, paper, flour, cornmeal, sand, slime (it’s more a onetime hit then a month long), etc.), and play items (cars, scoops, sticks, army men) the possibilities are endless.
Most of the ingredients used are harmless but some should not be ingested, some bins have items included that are choking hazards. BE SAFE you know whether or not your child puts things in their mouth, so make a good decision based on how supervised he/she should be during these activities.
To help you get started I am going to give you a list of 12 ideas for sensory bins. Using the one a month method you now have a year’s worth of sensory play right at your fingertips. Enjoy!!
NOTE- This post contains a year’s worth of activities so it is a little long in length…..
January/Snow Theme- I used Epsom salt for our filler, Epsom salt should not be ingested and will burn your eyes if it comes in contact with them so use caution. My 5 year old and 4 year old did great with this bin but I did not let the 2 year old play. We loved the texture of the Epsom salt for the snow but you could also use regular salt or even sugar (its winter so ants shouldn’t invade you) as filler if you prefer. I filled our bin up a little more then 1/4 of the way full. Then we added little sandbox shovels, miniature snow clearing equipment, and some cars.
February/Valentine's Day theme- Strawberry scented pink/red rice is our filler for this one. This was the first time using this particular method to color the rice but it worked out great (Strawberry scented rice recipe). After putting the rice in the bin as the filler I added some colored glass stones. You can buy these cheap at the dollar store; I love the smooth, cool feel they always have. I found some foam Valentine’s Day shapes; fake rose petals, a small Valentine’s tray and some red and pink plastic spoons to complete the bin. They kids love it and it is probably their favorite. I think the glass stones helped with that and will add them to several more.
March/St. Patrick’s Day theme- Our filler is FEATHERS!!! This was so fun. I picked up a bunch of gold/yellow feathers as the main filler then added just a few green ones. All of our play items came from the dollar store and holiday isle at our local discount store. Cheap plastic shamrock jewelry, gold coins, I also threw in a magnifying glass so the kids could inspect the feathers. This addition was a big hit. The idea for our St. Patrick’s Day bin came from Growing a Jeweled Rose (link), this is a blog dedicated to messy/sensory play and it is my favorite!! An alternate filler should you have a feather or down allergic family member is green split peas.
April/Water...April showers theme- Water beads are tiny little beads that you can buy at all craft stores or online, I even found some at Wal-Mart next to the fake flower materials. These are not safe for ingestion so use caution. This bin requires a little planning the beads need to be soaked in water for 4-6 hours then drain off the extra water before using. They will expand in size and become slippery, slimy little “water marbles”. Some of the colors will leave a bit of mess on the skin but it washes right off. Not sure about clothing, I’m sure we got some on ours and I haven’t noticed any lasting stains but I don’t really pay attention to that ;-) I chose blue beads for this bin and only added a couple of small cups and spoons as play items. To me the feel of the beads is plenty of sensory. These probably won’t last as long as the other fillers because of all the handling so keep some spare packs on hand if desired. Also towards the end of play treat yourself to a relaxing foot soak, it’s a MUST!!! Beware they are slippery little things and a few might get dropped.
May/Flowers theme- Did you catch onto my cheesiness?? April showers bring May flowers ;-) The filler is brightly colored smooth glass stones (you could also use marbles) I prefer the stones because they don’t roll as much when dropped. Add in some multi-colored pom-poms, felt flours, foam shapes and you are ready to go.
June/Ice Cream theme- What’s the best thing about June for our family? The warm weather is finally here and that means its ice cream weather!!! For this bin I used Ice Cream Dough and Rainbow Rice Sprinkles. Throw in an ice cream scoop, a bowl, and fake ice cream cones and enjoy. I started the bin with the “sprinkles” stored in a separate container and with the “ice cream” flavors separated but of course by the end of June we had swirled ice cream and it ALL had sprinkles!! This dough loses some of its wowness the more it is played with but it still got us through a month.
July/It’s HOT HOT HOT theme!!!- July is hot, what else is hot? The desert so our filler for this bin is cornmeal (you could also use sand here). You can use plain corn meal or add in some vegetable oil to make it a little more moldable. I would suggest adding the oil about half way through July that way you get the benefit of two textures. The boys helped me a lot with this theme so our play items were army men and vehicles. I also threw in a couple of small, plastic snakes and some stretchy, sticky lizards. The cornmeal will stick to the lizards but they were only $1 a pack so it didn’t bother me to trash them after this activity.
August/Aquarium theme- The boys loved the water beads so much that they begged to use them again so we purchased some more blue and some clear water beads for our aquarium themed sensory bin. I added in some small plastic fish (foam didn’t hold up to well in the water beads), a couple of those plastic water filled squishy things from the dollar stores. I don’t have a technical term for them but I know everybody remembers them from childhood. They are long cylinder plastic tubes that usually have glitter and small shapes floating around inside.
September/ NO theme- You read that correctly I have no theme for September but I do have a great filler for you. Shredded paper. I sent tons of scrap paper off to work with “Gan” (my Mom) so she could shred it up for the boys for this activity. Then throw in a little of whatever!! We used pony beads, foam shapes, glitter (big flakes from craft store), and a variety of small toys.
October/Halloween theme- Our filler is whole dried corn kernels and some dried black beans. Now if you are lucky enough like me to work at a seasonal corn maze or have a grandfather with a barn then the corn shouldn’t be a big deal if not then you may have to make a trip to the local feed store;-) I just threw in about a cup of the dried black beans to break up the color. Then we added rubber snakes, fake spiders, little felt pumpkins and a sand pail complete with shovel. Towards the end of October when everyone is doing pumpkin activities like (erupting pumpkins link) I think throwing in some dried pumpkin seeds would be great!!
November/Apples and Pumpkins theme- This bin is a little different in that is doesn’t have loose filler. Instead I added to separate sealed bags of homemade play-doh, Pumpkin Pie and apple-cinnamon scented. Then I added cookie cutters, plastic knives and spoons, pipe cleaners and some more of those glass stones in matching colors. If you put the play-doh back in the bags and keep them sealed it will last all month without a problem.
December/Snow Theme- We made it!!! It’s close to the end of the year and this insanely long blog post ;-) Even though we started out with a snow themed bin in January I am going to end with one also. Cloud dough is a family favorite. (Link to recipe) the original recipe calls for baby oil and that is what I used but some don’t like using that feel free to use vegetable oil as a substitution. Cloud dough is moldable so throw in some Christmas cookie cutters, red/green plastic spoons and any other Christmas themed goodies you would like.
(This picture is from our 1st Cloud Dough experience)
To prepare for this post the boys and I did a year’s worth of sensory bins in about two weeks. As a result I didn’t get pictures for all of them but as we work our way through 2013 I will add them inJ
Remember with sensory bins the possibilities are endless so don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and utilize this post. I know it was long but I hope you enjoy the whole years’ worth of sensory play!!